“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”~ Martin Luther King Jr.
It was a hard decision to make on where I was to do my internship. I had received 4 internship opportunities; one in Africa and three in the United States. All the offers were amazing. Having worked in the field, my goal was to do an internship in an American setting. After much thought and advice, I chose to do my internship at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.
On 10 May, 2015, in the company of my host family Bill Wicker and his daughter Savanna, we drove to New York from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was a long drive, 9 hours to be precise. I had never been to New York before; the closest I had been was through watching this amazing city in the movies. We arrived in the afternoon under the scorching sun, it was summertime and the temperatures were at an all-time high. Having found a place to stay a few weeks before my departure, we moved my luggage to the house. This was going to be my home for the next three months. Unlike Chapel Hill, where streets are clean with few people, New York was the complete opposite. Some streets had litter strewn everywhere, people never followed traffic lights and everything was moving too fast. After spending time with my host family, I bid them goodbye and was now alone in this big city.
On 13th May, 2015, 9.30 am, I arrived at the Earth Institute Columbia University to start my internship. I was to work under the One Million Community Health Workers Campaign (1mCHW) project as an Implementation Intern, West Africa portfolio.
Before I introduce my main duties and roles I was involved in during my internship, let me give a brief background of 1mCHW campaign.
The main goal of 1mCHW Campaign is to help African governments to deploy an upgraded generation of community health workers (CHWs), trained, supervised, remunerated, and supported by the latest in community based health technology. The campaign is overseen by a steering committee at the Earth Institute and it runs through the United Nations Sustainable Development Solution Network that informs its Solutions Initiative.
The rationale behind the campaign was informed through experience which has shown that each CHW can cover around 100 households, visiting each every 60-90 days. With an average of five people per household in rural Africa, one million CHWs can cover – to a rough approximation – the 500 million or so population of rural sub-Saharan Africa. Some countries have already embarked on the modernization and scale up of their CHW work force. Most others have not, and rely on poorly trained and poorly supervised volunteers.
Research shows that CHWs play a critical role in primary health care delivery as they provide basic public health services and medical care to the communities they come from. They are involved in various activities such as information sharing, immunization and health education. There is no doubt that a CHW is an integral part of improving the healthcare system, especially in poor rural setting. There is a need to strengthen the existing CHW by equipping them with new technologies and trainings. The campaign therefore works with governments and aid agencies to finance, organize and train the health workers.
As an Implementation intern, I was tasked with supporting the Campaigns implementation planning efforts to prepare for a roll-out of a CHW pilot program in the Ashanti Region in Ghana. The pilot study was to aid in bringing about a national level scale-up of CHWs across all the ten regions of Ghana. This was being done in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service and Implementing partners.
My first assignment was conducting a literature review on the effectiveness of incentivizing a CHWs program and the effectiveness of the use of mHealth in CHW programs. It was an important task as the team was to incorporate this information on the DIV funding proposal they were poised to submit on June. I was also tasked with developing a concept note to be used in the proposal. Other assignments included devising a situational analysis that was used during a stakeholder engagement workshop to inform them on system planning. In addition, developing a sustainability plan for the pilot project, proposal writing and working in the operations room also fell under my purview. I also attended all the internal meetings, webinars and wrote summary reports for my supervisor.
Take away points
Working at the Earth Institute helped me grow intellectually. I was able to learn how to manage project inputs while supplementing it with my previous experience of managing project outcomes. Since the main focus was on advising governments and working with governments to streamline its policies, this exposed me to how partnerships and collaborations work between agencies and governments. I was also able to learn more on how project financing is prepared and how this information is incorporated during proposal writing. The weekly meeting was also an eye opener for me on how decisions are made and targets set. They called it the team objectives and key results (OKR) that helped staff to make quarterly team and individual targets.
I was blessed to connect virtually and personally with other Peace Fellows working here in New York. Thanks to Susan, Amy and Mike Pfriem, the alumni relations coordinator at the Rotary Foundation. Our interactions were fruitful. I was able to learn how their programs were designed since most of them had gone to other peace centers like the University of Queensland, Bradford University, Chulalongkorn University and International Christian University. I was delighted to meet James Abraham, Larissa Bruun, Rose Foley and James Griffin in person. They were hospitable and made me feel at home professionally and to learn more about the operations of their organization.
Looking back, I would honestly say the Rotary Fellowship has been amazing. The fellowship has created a platform for networking with people from all corners of the world. Thanks to the Rotary database that has made that easier. The applied field experience (AFE) has also directly impacted my graduate studies positively. I have been able to learn more about partnerships, collaboration and resource mobilization; information related to my thesis work. I have also come to appreciate the importance of having a host family as they make life easier, especially being away from home. Lastly the unconditional support the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center offers during the AFE period is commendable.